Monday, February 13, 2012
Say It With ...
“Now what’s he up to?” Merry wondered, eying the kitchen door. Dash was not a cook. Heck, all he ate were grains, fruits and vegetables, raw when he could get ‘em. A man who could switch to horse form and graze in a pasture didn’t need a kitchen. So why had he shoo’d out the staff and told the hands to keep Merry occupied for a couple of hours?
“You know why.” Lacy giggled and elbowed Merry in the ribs. Lacy’s dad was one of the wranglers here on Merry’s dude ranch. Lacy groomed the horses and made sure the tack was in fit shape for guests to use. “It’s Valentine’s Day. He’s cooking you breakfast.”
“Little late for that,” Merry said. Her breakfast had been several hours ago, before sunrise. “Man’s next to useless in a kitchen. What’s he think he can do in there?”
“Something that'll make you happy, I’m thinking. You know how men get when they’re in love.”
“Sure, I know. How do you? You’re fourteen years old.”
Lacy grinned up at her. “Three older sisters, one married. Look, whatever he’s making—”
“Smile, bat my lashes, and pretend I love it. I know how to handle a lovestruck man.” Or a stud horse, which had come in handy since she’d hooked up with Dash. She gave Lacy a gentle push toward the door. “You get your tail back to the barn and keep out of trouble. I’m going in before he burns the house down.”
“Don’t forget to—”
“Smile. Got it. Now git.” Giggling, Lacy danced out the door.
Dang little brat, Merry thought. Fourteen going on thirty-six. Though given the choice, Merry’d rather deal with her than with a man in a kitchen. Even worse, a boss stallion in a kitchen. He could boil water for oatmeal, she figured he had that much sense. Anything beyond that was asking for disaster.
Best to deal with it quick. Fixing the necessary smile to her face, Merry pushed into the kitchen.
The warm, welcomy smell of baking greeted her. She stopped and stared around, astonished. Nothing burning? No grease fires? No big mess on the table or in the sink? The man was all hoof when it came to something as simple as brewing coffee. And here he’d gone and made her—
Dash stood by the oven and stared at her, maybe just a touch less startled than she. He had a cook’s apron protecting his brawny body from the perils of flour and butter. Apple cores littered the cutting board on the counter. He hadn’t bothered to throw them out. He’d been snacking on them while he worked.
“Merry,” he said, his voice several shades off his usual hearty neigh. “You’re supposed to be out riding fence.”
“Jerry took over for me. He said you were acting weird and you’d barricaded yourself in the kitchen.” She stared at the pie. “Well. I guess you’re not making bombs or setting fire to anything.”
“No.” Dash shook out his mane. Lord above, Merry realized, her big boss stud was embarrassed. He thrust the pie at her. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Merry picked up a washcloth and took the still-warm pie plate from his hands. She pulled in a long, hearty sniff. It smelled heavenly. The aroma called up distant memories of winter afternoons helping Mama peel apples to help make fritters for the hands. “Apple?”
“’Course it’s apple.” Dash tossed his hair again, like a nervous horse. “I know it’s different for you humans. Chocolate and flowers and that. With us, it’s apple pie. Sometimes a bouquet of alfalfa and timothy. I didn’t think you’d go for that, though.”
“No, the pie’s a good choice.” Her mouth watered like a dog’s at sight of a biscuit. Suddenly something occurred to her. She set the pie on the table. “When you first showed up at the ranch, I offered you lunch. I served you apple pie.”
Dash nodded, with a touch of a grin. “Uh-huh.”
“You must’ve thought I was a slut.”
“I thought you were just another stuck-up, bossy human filly, until you served me up that pie.” Dash’s grin widened. He ambled over to her to rub her cheek with a flour-dusted thumb. “It made me re-evaluate my attitude toward humans, and got me curious enough about you to want to stick around. I’m happy now I did. How ‘bout you?”
Merry nodded mutely. The world, and a woman’s happiness, turned on such tiny events. She’d come a slice-of-pie’s width away from missing out on the best thing to ever enter her life. She looked up into his eyes and could see he was saying the same thing to himself.
She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him hard as she could. Dash’s strong arms crushed her to him. You find a man this good, she thought, you hang on and don’t let go.
“So anyway,” Dash said when they finally broke free, “happy Valentine’s Day. We gonna eat that pie or what?”
“You bet.” Merry grinned. Who needed candy anyway, when she had the sweetest man-horse in the world right here in her kitchen? “I think there’s ice cream in the freezer.”